Category Archives: Business

How Can Be Now Private Healthcare Exchanges Help Your Business

When it comes to benefits packages, both employees and employers know that one size does not fit all. What is right for a younger, entry-level worker might not make sense for an empty nester with seniority. A flexible benefits package based on employees’ unique situations and income levels is essential to retaining top talent. As open enrollment approaches, employees will be hitting the exchanges once more to select their health care packages and other benefits for the coming year. Here’s a look at how some employers are using private exchanges to give employees more options, as well as to better manage benefits-related expenses.

What is a private benefits exchange? Private exchanges are essentially marketplaces where employees can shop online for health insurance and other benefits, including dental, vision and life insurance. Employers first access the private exchange and choose from a variety of carriers the benefits they want to offer, as well as set their specified contribution levels for each offered product. Employees then access the exchange to peruse the products offered by their employer and select the ones that suit their lifestyles and financial needs.

“Think of these exchanges as a store, and each of the types of benefits are aisles,” Steven A. Nyce, director of the Willis Towers Watson Research and Innovation Center, told Business News Daily. “As an employer, you ‘own’ the store and have the ability to decide what products you want to include. So, say, one aisle is medical, [an employee] would have a number of products to choose from in that aisle.” Depending on what products the employer has selected to offer, employees have their pick of the entire “store.” Those employees who need pet insurance can select it, while those who desire supplemental medical coverage, such as hospital indemnity, are able to as well. The aim is to give customizable control to the individual who is selecting the plan while also stabilizing costs to the employer. “By facilitating a shift to a defined contribution … private exchanges offer the potential for cost stability to employers, while giving greater choice to employees, albeit with greater financial risk as well,” a 2014 report issued by The Kaiser Foundation reads. “Because the employer defines up front the amount paid to the employee, employers have greater control over how much they spend on health benefits.” Health benefit costs are a huge consideration for employers. According to a 2015 report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health care spending grew by $102 billion between 2012 and 2013.  The rapidly increasing costs of health care in the U.S., coupled with employer obligations under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), means keeping health benefits expenses stable is a growing challenge. How are employees using private benefits exchanges? To better understand the emerging private exchange marketplace, the Private Exchange Research Council (PERC) partnered with private exchange Liazon to see how consumers were operating within that exchange, and found that employers are offering more products over time and employees are purchasing more as well. The PERC report found that, on average, employers offer 14 products on their customized exchanges. Medical, dental and vision plans are the most commonly offered by employers: The average company’s benefits package on Liazon includes six medical plans, three dental products and four vision packages from which to choose. Many companies also offer life insurance, legal plans, identity protection, disability benefits and pet insurance. From 2013 through 2015, employees on average increased the number of products they purchased for their individualized plan from 3.6 to 4.4. A number of factors could be responsible, Nyce said, from the growth of the exchanges to more comfortability among those who have participated in the exchanges for several years. “We’re seeing an expansion of benefits and a blurring of the lines traditionally seen between retirement and health care, life insurance and disability,” Nyce said. “Those were traditionally in their own silos, but we’re seeing them come together now in a more holistic approach. It provides employees with a unique experience, and they can use [these benefits options] as a platform to grow to a broader set of benefits in the future.”

Steps Better Employee Performance Reviews

Conducting regular performance reviews is an important and constructive way to evaluate the contributions an employee is making to the company. But the traditional practice of sitting down once or twice a year to discuss what an employee has done well and needs to improve on simply isn’t cutting it anymore.

In a recent study, employee engagement company TINYpulse polled over 1,000 professionals to find out what they thought about their reviews. The results showed that employees are generally dissatisfied with traditional performance reviews: 37 percent said they think the process is outdated, and 42 percent said they think managers leave important elements out of their review due to bias. Nearly a quarter of respondents even said they “feared” their performance review, especially those in the millennial generation.

“Traditional annual performance reviews are inadequate,” said Matt Hulett, chief product officer of TINYpulse. “They’re biased towards recent work, goals aren’t communicated clearly, there’s misalignment in objectives between organizations and employees, and quite simply, the whole process just takes too long. With more and more … workers wanting change, the time for a performance review system upgrade is now.”

In a recent article for The Washington Post, Cliff Stevenson, a senior recent analyst for the Institute for Corporate Productivity, said that, to date, nearly 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies have done away with annual employee performance reviews. Many large companies — such as The Gap, Adobe, Costco, GE and Microsoft, to name a few — have scrapped their traditional review programs in favor of systems that incorporate newer technology and immediate feedback to employees after assignments while still maintaining documentation of performance.

Here are some suggestions to follow their lead in revamping your company’s employee review process.

1. Embrace technology. There is an increasing trend in the development and use of employee engagement apps, such as TINYpulse, Impraise and Workday. These apps give employees and managers a chance to communicate regarding assignments daily, tracking progress, providing feedback and incorporating other business aspects so that each member of the team is on track and on the same page.

2. Institute performance-related pay increases. Sixty-four percent of the people polled by TINYpulse wanted pay increases tied to their performance reviews. Consider quarterly bonuses or increases to positively reinforce good work as well as the employee’s confidence that you value him or her as both an individual and a contributor.

3. Make reviews more frequent. With immediate feedback provided on social media sites like Facebook, people are increasingly used to hearing the good and bad on our thoughts and actions in real time. TINYpulse found that employees are in favor of more frequent reviews, so consider conducting evaluations at key milestones, such as at the end of a major project, or quarterly. These meetings do not have to be long, but they should highlight the highs and lows of the project or time frame. Such reviews give managers a chance to stay engaged with their direct reports, and also provide an opportunity for continuous improvement by receiving feedback from the employee on what could be improved for the next cycle.

“If you put this new generation in the box of the performance management we’ve used the last 30 years, you lose them,” Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme told The Washington Post. “People want to know on an ongoing basis, ‘Am I doing right? Am I moving in the right direction? Do you think I’m progressing?’ Nobody’s going to wait for an annual cycle to get that feedback.”

When giving informal feedback, managers should avoid general comments, such as “nice work” or “good job,” said Brigette McInnis-Day, executive vice president of human resources at SAP. Instead, they should cite specific examples, such as “Great job leading that meeting,” so the employee knows exactly what behaviors to repeat or change in the future, she said.

Another way to provide ongoing feedback to employees is by collecting and sharing a “crowdsourced” review from other staff members, said Eric Mosley, CEO and co-founder of employee recognition and rewards solution Globoforce. The results of the TINYpulse survey support that suggestion, finding that more than a quarter of respondents would like to have co-workers involved in the review process.

“Managers should crowdsource reviews about an employee’s work from their entire staff, so they can get a complete and accurate picture of an employee’s performance throughout the entire year,” Mosley said. “It provides constant feedback to both individuals and their managers, while informing the community at large of progress. It harnesses the wisdom of the crowds to give accurate and specific feedback on individual performance, and it will harness the power of data analysis to connect performance to profits. More than anything, it continuously drives company behavior toward a deliberate, strategic culture.”

Written feedback is an important component of performance evaluations, but many managers find it difficult to complete this task effectively. If positive comments aren’t phrased well, they can sound trite and insincere, and any suggestions for improvement might sound too critical.

Richard Grote, author of “How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011), said that instead of using terms such as “good” or “excellent” in a review, employers should opt for more measurement-oriented language. In an interview with HRCareers.com, Grote noted that action words — such as “excels,” “exhibits,” “demonstrates,” “grasps,” “generates,” “manages,” “possesses,” “communicates,” “monitors,” “directs” and “achieves” — are more meaningful.

Ken Lloyd, author of “Performance Appraisals & Phrases for Dummies” (For Dummies, 2009), offered a range of words and phrases managers could use for each type of employee responsibility:

  • Quality and quantity of work: accuracy, thoroughness, productivity and goal attainment
  • Communication and interpersonal skills: teamwork, cooperation, listening, persuasion and empathy
  • Planning, administration and organization: goal setting, prioritizing and profit orientation
  • Leadership: accessibility, responsiveness, decisiveness, collaboration and delegating
  • Job knowledge and expertise: knowledge base, training, mentoring, modeling and researching
  • Attitude: dedication, loyalty, reliability, flexibility, initiative, energy and volunteering
  • Ethics: diversity, sustainability, honesty, integrity, fairness and professionalism
  • Creative thinking: innovation, receptiveness, problem solving and originality
  • Self-development and growth: learning, education, advancement, skill building and career planning

Proven Ways to Make Motivate Your Sales Team

A motivated sales staff is critical to the success of your company. The relationships they build with your clients and customers create the foundation of your organization — not just in terms of individual sales, but also your overall reputation and growth. Lackluster salespeople slowly erode at that foundation, making it harder to hit goals and move into new markets.

There are many different ways to motivate a sales team. Some companies use quota programs with bonuses and other financial rewards. Others go the “fun” route with contests, trips, tickets, dinners and other innovative rewards.  But sales professionals need more than gift cards or event tickets; they want to succeed in their chosen profession by climbing up the ladder.

You also need to keep in mind that not all employees are motivated by the same things. Develop top performers by combining different rewards that will keep all of your staff motivated.

Cold, hard cash is a tried and true motivator. Many sales teams hold weekly, monthly and quarterly contests on both the individual and team levels. You can set the parameters to fit your business, such as the number of widgets sold, the total sales in dollars or the number of new accounts opened.

But here’s the trick: Everyone is used to the system that rewards the top sales performer. Try a system that rewards the individual that tries the hardest. For instance, Dan McGraw, founder and CEO of Fuelzee, said that one of the best ways his company learned about motivation was by rewarding the sales team for “no’s.”

“Every time someone got a no, we tracked it in our system, and the person with the most no’s received a $100 gift card every week,” McGraw said. “This might sound crazy, but you get a lot of no’s when doing sales. The more no’s you get, the closer you are to getting a yes. The prize of getting a yes is way larger than $100, so you still wanted to get there. This nearly doubled our outbound calls and motivated the whole team.”

For some salespeople, the ability to have a little fun during work time is even more of a motivator than money. Common rewards for reaching sales goals or benchmarks include leaving work early, attending a happy hour or maybe giving a trip to reward success over a long period of time.

But fun in small spurts can be just as rewarding. Rick Hanson, a vice president for worldwide sales and field operations with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Security, said his company uses FantasySalesTeam to award points to “players” (sales reps) for carrying out their daily tasks, like increasing a pipeline or closing a deal. The unique twist is that the reps don’t just compete as individuals, Hanson said; they build teams just as in fantasy football.

“Reps earn points for their FantasySalesTeam based on the performance of their chosen peers and friends, and this creates an environment of encouragement and pressure amongst the players,” he said. “To win the game, they must rely and push on each other to perform. Even more exciting is just how many reps in our sales organization can, and want to, participate.”

Another way to make sales fun is to reward reps with office/desk gadgets and games, said Kevin Baumgart, vice president of sales at Hireology.

“You might not think that a pingpong table for the office would push people and drive behaviors,” Baumgart said. “Try it. From my experience, chair massagers, beanbag chairs, stand-up desk converters, cube art, etc. can all be motivational rewards as well.”

Fun and financial rewards often work, but for some employees, the ultimate reward is the opportunity to get ahead in their careers. Managers should offer incentives that help employees develop skills to move to the next level, including your own time, said Jeff Hoffman, a sales executive, educator and founder of Your Sales MBA.

“Try a sales contest where the prize or a midway bonus is you,” Hoffman wrote on HubSpot. “Work for the leading rep for a few hours, doing whatever they direct you to — calls, demos, presentations, etc. Not only does this motivate your team; it also shows you aren’t afraid to roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches.”

The whole team will see you leading by example, creating an inspirational ripple effect, Hoffman said.

Another reward is lunch with a C-level executive. As Hoffman wrote, “Most sales reps crave one-on-one time with a senior leader to share their thoughts and get an inside look into company strategy.” The chance to impress or relate to an individual on a mentorship level will pay dividends for everyone, Hoffman added.

By offering a variety of rewards, you stand a greater chance of having a motivator for every personality type on your team and developing all of your salespeople into top-tier team players. When your goals and their goals align, only the best things can happen.

Here Keys to a Successful Sales Pitch

Sales are the lifeblood of any company: No matter how fantastic your product or service is, if customers or clients are not purchasing it, it might as well not exist. That’s why crafting an effective sales pitch is so critical for business growth.

Bob Circosta, the original host of the Home Shopping Network and television’s “Billion Dollar Man,” knows a lot about what it takes to close a sale. It’s not about giving a rundown of the facts and features of your product — it’s about communicating the ways in which it can help the buyer, he said.

“Stop thinking of it just from the perspective of what you have,” Circosta told Business News Daily. “Think about what it will do for others. You need to take your elevator pitch and transcend it … to other people’s perspective [and] solve their problems.”

Circosta advised approaching sales from a helping perspective. Instead of putting pressure on yourself to make the sale, just focus on what the product means to the buyer, he said.

“If [sales reps] focus on how to communicate effectively and help the person, it takes pressure off themselves, and puts the focus and energy where it needs to be,” Circosta said. “A superior salesperson inspires the buyer to feel the benefits of what they have.”

If you want to craft better sales pitches, here are a few key elements you should focus on. [See Related Story: How to Pitch Your Business to Customers, Investors or Anyone Else]

The first contact with a potential customer or client is crucial to setting the tone for the ongoing relationship. Tom Silk, executive vice president at WorkStride, a provider of employee recognition software, said there is power in the first sentence of the sales pitch. But it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it, he added.

“Use tone, energy — stand up and show enthusiasm,” Silk said. “Energy sets the tone of the conversation.”

Moreover, it’s important to establish a connection with the person you’re selling to, said Brian Stafford, CEO of collaboration software company Diligent Corp.

“Establishing rapport is absolutely critical,” Stafford said. “The best sales rep creates a connection with the prospect as early on as possible.”

Whether in person or on the phone, pay attention to the cues that are happening during the pitch, Stafford said. Pay attention to who is speaking, and if it’s an in-person meeting, note the body language. Look for affirmative cues, such as head nods, forward leaning, and open, relaxed postures. If you are getting the opposite, such as crossed arms or other nonresponses, then take a step back.

“I think sometimes, [sales reps] keep plowing ahead even if they aren’t getting the response they hoped for,” Stafford said. “It can be more dynamic to stop and pump the brakes, ask questions, and force them to say what isn’t working for them.”

It is harder to identify these types of social cues over the phone, but they are there if you listen. Silk advised envisioning what is going on in the room and working through the “noise language.” What is being said, by whom and how? Adjust to the silence, and solicit feedback.

“If the plan is not going well, change and adjust on the fly,” Silk said.

This is perhaps the most important part of the sales pitch: Ask someone to take action at the end of a sales presentation, Circosta said. Even if the prospective buyer isn’t ready to make a final decision yet, leaving them with a clear call to action will at least keep the idea of doing business with you fresh in their mind.

“If you don’t ask them for the sale, they probably won’t go through with it,” he said.

Knowing how and when to follow up on a sales pitch is another factor in its success. It would be nice if every sale were closed at the end of the pitch, but that rarely happens. Decision makers need to take time to evaluate the proposal and ensure what you have to offer is going to fix their problem or improve their capabilities.

WorkStride creates a project plan with its potential clients, defining the milestones for follow-up and the best method to do so.

“The whole purpose of the project plan is to let us know when to follow up,” Silk said. “No ‘checking in’ annoying calls. We can make the follow-up calls with a purpose — after a key meeting of decision makers or at the appropriate time in their budget cycle.”

Diligent Corp. employs a similar strategy: “Follow up, and make yourself be a champion of your key contact in the sales process,” Stafford said. “Problem solve with them. What are the things we need to do to get them over the line?”

Above all else, Stafford said the most important thing you can do throughout the entire sales process is to listen to your prospective client.

“Ask questions and listen,” he said. “Figure out what a potential client wants in a product, and then tailor your response to meet it.”

 

This Create an Effective Marketing Plan

Most small business owners know the importance of a business plan, which outlines your company’s course for success. One crucial element of that plan is your marketing strategy.

Because this strategy is buried in the larger business plan, many small business owners may not give marketing the time, research and attention it deserves, assuming that they know their customer base and how to reach them. But an in-depth and detailed approach to laying out your marketing strategy can reveal opportunities from a new audience or potential product line, pitfalls in pricing, competition reaction, and potential reach.

At its most basic, a marketing plan describes who your customers are, where they get information and how you are going to reach them. Robert J. Thomas, a marketing professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, said the development of a marketing plan requires that you complete four specific tasks:

1. Develop a very clear and focused insight into why a potential customer would use your business. More specifically, figure out the core need that your product or service will meet. Is it to help your customers get through the day more easily? Do their job more efficiently? Be respected and admired by friends? Your offering should be designed to solve client problems or meet customer needs better than the competition can.

2. Identify your target customers. There are numerous potential customers in most markets, but to succeed faster and better, a small business must study the market and determine the characteristics of its best target customers. The target customer should be described in detail. Create an avatar, or fictional person, who has all of your target-customer attributes, and examine what that person would say, do, feel and think in the course of a day.

3. Identify competitors that would also want your target customers. No matter how original your product or service may be, there is always competition for your target customer’s dollar. Small businesses seldom take the time to study their competitors in depth, or determine competition that may be outside their industry but just as capable of luring the customer away. Preparing to know who that is, what their core competitive advantage is and how they will respond to your offering (price cuts, increased communication, etc.) will help you figure out strategies to combat such losses.

4. Write down your brand-positioning statement for your target customers. Ultimately, your brand and what it symbolizes for customers will be your strongest competitive advantage. You should be able to write down a simple declarative sentence of how you will meet customer needs and beat the competition. The best positioning statements are those that are single-minded and focus on solving a problem for the customer in a way that promotes the best value.

Now that you know the elements of the plan, you need to figure out how you are going to reach that target customer. Aside from traditional print and broadcast media, here are three tech-driven marketing channels that many of today’s business owners utilize.

Social media has become an essential part of businesses’ marketing plans because every type of customer is on some type of platform, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and other networks. Small business owners can feel overwhelmed at the possibilities but should focus on the ones that can benefit them the most.

Brett Farmiloe, founder of internet marketing company Markitors, advised companies that are just getting started in social media to get to know their customers and what platforms they are using.

“Figure out where your customers are spending their time, and set up shop on those platforms,” Farmiloe told Business News Daily. “Develop a content strategy that can be executed internally, [and then] execute your strategy by posting branded content on your selected platforms. While all three steps are key, the biggest one is really determining if your customers are on these platforms.”

Though email marketing may not be a new concept like social media marketing, it is an effective and popular choice for many small business owners. Companies can implement email-marketing techniques in a number of ways, including using newsletters, promotional campaigns and transactional emails. Companies such as MailChimp and Constant Contact make it easy for companies to manage their email campaigns.

Farmiloe noted that companies can set their email marketing efforts apart by segmenting their markets.

“Not all subscribers want to receive the same blast,” Farmiloe said. “Smart email marketers take the time to segment subscribers at the outset, and then continue to segment based on subscriber activity. Through segmentation, companies reduce the amount of unsubscribes, increase open rates and, most importantly, increase the amount of actions taken from an email send.”

For help choosing an email marketing service, visit Business News Daily’s buyer’s guide.

Editor’s Note: Looking for information on email marketing services? Fill in the questionnaire below, and you will be contacted by vendors ready to discuss your needs.

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The popularity of smartphones and tablets has helped change the way companies target their customers. Since people have the devices with them nearly all the time, companies are looking to implement strategies that reach customers on their gadgets.

“Mobile marketing is interruptive,” Farmiloe said. “It’s because of this power that a marketer has to let the consumer determine how and when to receive marketing material. That’s why almost every app comes with the option to turn notifications on or off. The consumer has to hold the power with mobile marketing.”

Creating a well-defined list of budgets, goals and action items, with appropriate personnel assigned to each item, can help make your marketing plan a reality. Think about how much you’re willing to spend, the kind of outcomes you expect, and the necessary tasks to achieve those outcomes. A Cleverism article advised defining three key elements to help you measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts:

  1. How you want to track your campaign
  2. The channels you want to track
  3. The metrics you want to measure

The metrics — the numerical data that allows you to see if you’re reaching your goals — are the best ways to measure your return on investment, according to Cleverism. This can include wesite visits, lead conversion, click-through/bounce rates, social media effectiveness and referrals. More tips for measuring your marketing results can be found in this BND article.

This AIB Start-up Academy Conquering the Summits

On Thursday 19th January, the PorterShed, Galway’s innovative, AIB backed, tech-hub hosted the first in a series of regional AIB Start-up Academy Summits. The Summits aim to bring together start-ups, business influencers and experts for an evening of learning and networking in an informal setting.

A full house, with guests coming from near and far, were treated to an outstanding evening, packed with great chat and invaluable advice. Local start-ups DoughBros Pizza andIndependent Brewing Company were on hand to share their wonderful pizzas and beers with attendees, while 2016 AIB Start-up Academy runner-up Blackwater Distillery supplied the ever popular gin cocktails.

Hosted by Galway native Gráinne Seoige, the event kicked off with a panel discussion with some of the region’s leading entrepreneurs – Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, former owner of Aer Arann, Aoibheann McNamara, proprietor of ArdBia and co-founder of The Tweed Project, David Cunningham, CEO of Lean Start-up Summit and PorterShed board member and Padraic Joyce, founder of PJ Personnel and former Galway footballer. The panel discussed a wide range of business issues, with exceptional honesty and passion.

Two up-and-coming entrepreneurs, Emer Cooney of Hydrasure and Ciara Garvan of Workjuggle both delivered pitches to a judging panel of Evin Cusack, Head of AIB Galway, Mary Rodgers from PorterShed Innovation Community Manager, David Murphy of the Irish Times and John Breslin, NUI Galway and PorterShed Director.

The judges were faced with a difficult decision as both Emer and Ciara delivered excellent pitches. However, Emer Cooney of Hydrasure was selected as the winner, meaning that she now goes on to take part in the AIB Start-up Academy programme. Hydrasure is an award-winning start-up based in Co. Wicklow that provides smart stabling solutions to the equine & agricultural industries.

The evening wrapped up with presentations from Harold Craston of Google and Hannah Braithwaite of BCSG, who kindly shared key business tips and tools with the audience with MyBusinessToolkit.

We now move on to Cork next week for the second AIB Start-up Academy Summit and if Galway is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat!

Please be aware that all of the views expressed in this Blog are purely the personal views of the authors and commentators (including those working for AIB as members of the AIB website team or in any other capacity) and are based on their personal experiences and knowledge at the time of writing.